HPC Badges: XSEDE Enters the Micro-Certification Arena

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HPC Badges: XSEDE Enters the Micro-Certification Arena

Jeff Sale
Learning Design Technologist
San Diego Supercomputer Center, UCSD

Micro-certification is a means by which professionals may demonstrate their knowledge and expertise in a particular field and, if successful, receive a low-cost credential without having to complete an expensive and time-consuming degree program. In particular, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) are becoming a popular way of obtaining micro-certification because of their low-cost and their availability, and MOOCs such as Coursera, EdX, Udemy, Lynda and many others are finding ways to make micro-certification a profitable endeavor.

Courses typically require somewhere between a few hours to a few weeks to complete. Courses are often offered for free, with the option of paying a reasonably-affordable fee to obtain a credential upon course completion. Because most micro-certification courses are delivered online, means for assessing expertise are typically done with multi-question exams which may be assessed either fully- or semi-automatically. Assessments requiring the learner to demonstrate practical hands-on applications are less common since they typically require the involvement of an expert to adequately assess the learner’s performance. However, a ‘peer review’ approach, in which fellow classmates are tasked with performing the assessment based on a provided rubric, is becoming more viable as a means of assessing performance for hundreds or thousands of students at a time.

The concept of offering a ‘badge’ as a preferred form of micro-certification derives from the popularity of badges in a variety of organizations and professions. Most of us are familiar with earning badges as children through organizations such as the Girl or Boy Scouts. Badges are also becoming more familiar and appealing to younger generations who played video games in which badges are offered as a reward for completing a quest or challenge. In fact, badges are part of a larger movement in organizational performance improvement called “gamification”. Badges are also common at the professional level as a way of encouraging respect and acknowledgement of an individual’s authority, such as in law enforcement (e.g. a Sheriff’s badge) and the military (e.g. a ‘badge of honor’).

As such, badges are finding a place within the corporation or professional organization as a way of more effectively engaging employees. Badges are often used as a way of ‘on-boarding’ for new employees, and as a way of certifying staff for having completed employee training programs such as ethics in the workplace or cybersecurity training.

XSEDE (eXtreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment) is the latest incarnation of a more than 30-year old high-performance computing (HPC) community whose mission is to “substantially enhance the productivity of a growing community of scholars, researchers, and engineers through access to advanced digital services that support open research and coordinate and add significant value to the leading cyberinfrastructure resources funded by the NSF and other agencies.” XSEDE has identified the need to offer micro-certification with badging for a variety of technical areas within HPC.

Currently, XSEDE offers badge certification for OpenACC, MPI, OpenMP, Data Visualization, and Data Science. These badges are based on tutorial material from a series of XSEDE webinars consisting of 1-2 day online presentations including a considerable amount of hands-on content. XSEDE badges offer micro-certification for three different skill levels, Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. The Beginner level typically consists of a low-stakes multiple-question assessment offering multiple attempts and no time limit. The Intermediate and Advanced levels will include a more challenging assessment consisting of 10-15 questions with a limited number of attempts and a time limit plus a practical assessment based on ‘real-world’ applications in that particular technical field.

The XSEDE HPC Badges are offered through the Mozilla Open Badges program. The Open Badges “Backpack” currently hosts nearly one million badges earned from professionals around the world. However, the process of submitting a Badge for inclusion in the Mozilla Open Badges can be difficult and and time-consuming so XSEDE has chosen to offer its badges using the Moodle learning management system which provides Open Badge support built-in to their interface. To date, badges have been awarded to dozens of users within the XSEDE community, and the process of determining how these badges might serve to validate the learner’s competence when looking for employment is currently being evaluated. You may attempt an XSEDE HPC Badge by visiting the XSEDE HPC Training Portal.



Free “Supercomputing” MOOC starting on 28 August 2017

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By Dr David Henty, EPCC, The University of Edinburgh

Today’s supercomputers are the most powerful calculating machines ever
invented, capable of performing more than a thousand million million
calculations every second. This gives scientists and engineers a
powerful new tool to study the natural world – computer simulation.

This free 5-week online course will introduce you to what supercomputers
are, how they are used and how we can exploit their full computational
potential to make scientific breakthroughs. Register for the upcoming
run on 28th August at www.futurelearn.com/courses/supercomputing/.

This course was developed by EPCC at the University of Edinburgh and
by SURFsara as part of the EC-funded PRACE project.

SIGHPC Education SC16 Recap

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By the SIGHPC Education Committee

Thank you to all who attended our SC16 BoF. We had over 40 participants! If there’s one thing you do after reading this article, please join our various communities in social media and contribute to the cause.

  • https://www.facebook.com/sighpcedu/
  • https://twitter.com/sighpcedu
  • https://plus.google.com/communities/101759384971441116586
  • https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12019017

During this meeting we reviewed the need to share, the effort to promote, and things we could do immediately to improve HPC Education broadly.

David Halstead did quick polls during the meeting where attendees could log into a URL or text responses to questions asked of the group. Then Richard Coffey and David prompted the audience to give us feedback on what topics were important to them. Three main topics came up: 1) repositories for tools, 2) modifying curriculum for HPC, and 3) what can be done immediately.

Scott Lathrop headed up the repository breakout. He and his contributors provided the following:

One of the most important findings of this group was that they are not going to be providing the one repository for all. The group considered how HPC repositories should be cross-linking and providing visibility to their peer repos. Ownership (and piracy/theft) of code examples and curriculum was a concern for some during the discussion. Keeping the repositories fresh and up-to-date is also a challenge. The other thought was how to provide excellent examples to developers of these materials. During the conversation, the SuiteSparse Matrix Collection was proffered up as thorough example: http://www.cise.ufl.edu/research/sparse/matrices/. Finally, there was a great deal of delving into classifications of HPC work – the need for specialized, domain specific examples as well as generally classifying and reviewing examples.

The recommendations of this group were:

  • The community should search the problem domains for popular suites like SuiteSparse Matrix Collection
  • A great repository should have the following: data collections, code examples, curricular models, assignments & testing materials
  • HPC Education or others should provide hosting service (shared space) for metadata, pointers, and possibly the data as well
  • This service should have a reviewing process, possibly like a google recommendation
  • There is interest in a more formal review process that can test the ability to replicate the curriculum.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel! Talk with librarians, creative commons, and other folks who can help with metadata

Richard facilitated the “what can be done immediately” group and reported back these findings:

The general consensus is that there is too much fragmentation on the education and not enough focus. Nearly all of the breakout group members reported they didn’t know about resources such as hpcuniversity.org and csinparallel.org. There was interest in a survey out to the community asking questions like: what is the HPC maturity of  your students, what are the needs of the instructors/trainers, and how does your organization support HPC education (if at all)? Additioanlly, there was interest in creating a shared virtual office where members of the organization could be called or emailed with questions on how to get going.

David led the modifying curriculum breakout and reported back the following:

There is a need for a standardized and accessible  “Introduction to Computing” to help on-board students and researchers into computing enabled science. The discussion also touched on how to develop consistent templates for undergraduate computing courses. Finally, there was a great deal of interest in mechanisms and  opportunities to “train the trainers”. David reported back that just sitting around talking about curriculum in the open setting helped suss out wheels already invented and lessons learned. Clearly, facilitating a self-help forum has real value for the participants.


Clearly, between the working groups there were common themes. Also, one of the purposes of SIG HPC Education is to help facilitate awareness and provide cross linking. Finally, there’s opportunity for SIG HPC Education to foster opportunities such as hangouts on curriculum and developing a public forum for discussing pedagogy.

Training a new generation of supercomputer users

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BY: Marta García, 2017 Program Director, Argonne Training Program on Extreme-Scale Computing (ATPESC)

High-performance computing (HPC) education is essential to our community. From evolving programming techniques and numerical algorithms to transformations in HPC architectures and software, our world is moving fast as we continue progressing toward the Exascale Era. But are we ready for it?

Using supercomputers for computational science and engineering (CSE) requires expertise that is not always covered by formal education. To address this gap in professional training, we created the Argonne Training Program on Extreme-Scale Computing (ATPESC). This intense two-week program focuses on the key skills, approaches, and tools needed to conduct CSE research on today’s supercomputers and the extreme-scale systems of the future. For an overview, check out this video on the 2016 program: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5nYN_im8xM

ATPESC participants are provided access to hundreds of thousands of cores of computing power on some of today’s most powerful supercomputing resources, including the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility’s Mira and Vesta systems, the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility’s Titan system, and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center’s Cori and Edison systems.

While only 65 participants are able to attend ATPESC each year, the entire HPC community can tap into the program’s broad curriculum via the Argonne YouTube Training Channel. In an effort to extend the reach of ATPESC beyond the classroom, program organizers have captured and shared 76 hours of lectures from some of the world’s foremost experts and pioneers in extreme-scale computing.

In the summer of 2017, ATPESC will be back for its fifth year, providing a new group of early career researchers with an opportunity to learn and improve their skills to use extreme-scale computing systems for breakthrough CSE research. If you or someone you know may be interested in attending, stay tuned to the ATPESC website for details on the call for applications in January 2017.

ATPESC is funded by the Exascale Computing Project, which is supported by the DOE Office of Science’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research Program.

Workforce, Education, and Training at SC16

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If you are attending SC16 in Salt Lake City, you will find a number of workshops, Birds of a Feather (BOF), and technical sessions relating to workforce, education, and training topics.  We have assembled a list of those sessions as a guide to those who are interested in those topics.  Of course we especially would like you to attend our chapter BOF on Tuesday November 15th at 12:15 PM where we will lead a discussion about the education and training issues important to you, and ask for your feedback in shaping future chapter activities.

One thing to note:  you must add workshops to your registration.  BOF’s and other sessions are open to all other registrants.  You should also check out the HPC Impact showcase sessions throughout the conference for presentations on the impacts of HPC on a variety of industry and research applications.

Here are the other sessions we found of note in schedule order.

Workshop: Women in HPC at SC16

Sunday 9am-5.30pm: Workshop: Diversifying the HPC Community

Location: 251-D

The fifth international Women in HPC workshop will be held at SC16, Salt Lake City, USA. The workshop will address a variety of issues relevant to both employers and to employees, specifically to identify particular challenges faced by women, outline opportunities and strategies for broadening participation, and share information on the steps being taken to encourage women into the field and retain a diverse workforce.

 Education/Career Keynote and Pitch-It Workshop

Sunday November 13 1:30 – 2:15 PM

Location: 260

This is the kickoff section for the student program.  The keynote will be delivered by Wen-Mei Hwu, University of Illinois.

Workshop: Third SC Workshop on Best Practices for HPC Training

Monday, November 14, 9:00 AM – 12:30 PM

Location: 155-F

The SC16 workshop will be used to highlight the results of collaborative efforts during 2016 to develop and deploy HPC training, to identify new challenges and opportunities, and to foster new, enhanced and expanded collaborations to pursue during 2017.

Workshop: EduHPC Workshop

Monday, November 14, 2:00 – 5:30 PM

Location: 251-E

The EduHPC Workshop is devoted to the development and assessment of educational resources for undergraduate education in High Performance Computing (HPC) and Parallel and Distributed Computing (PDC). This workshop focuses on the state-of-the-art in HPC and PDC education, by means of both contributed and invited papers from academia, industry, and other educational and research institutions.

Workshop: HPC Systems Professional Workshop

Monday, November 14, 2:00 – 5:30 PM

Location: 155-F

In order to meet the demands of HPC researchers, large-scale computational and storage machines require many staff members who design, install, and maintain these systems. These HPC systems professionals include system engineers, system administrators, network administrators, storage administrators, and operations staff who face problems that are unique to HPC systems. This workshop is designed to share solutions to common problems, provide a platform to discuss upcoming technologies, and present state of the practice techniques so that HPC centers will get a better return on their investment, increase performance and reliability of systems, and researchers will be more productive.

BOF: SIGHPC Education Chapter Meeting

Tuesday, November 15, 12:15 – 1:15 PM

Location:  355-D

This BOF will bring together those interested in promoting HPC education through the formal and informal activities of the chapter.  The session will begin with an open discussion from participants to solicit their ideas and feedback on chapter activities followed by a review of current activities and plans for the chapter in the coming year.

Panel:  HPC Workforce Development: How Do We Find Them, Recruit Them, and Teach Them to Be Today’s Practitioners and Tomorrow’s Leaders?

Tuesday, November 15, 3:30 – 5:00 PM

Location: 255-BC

This panel session is focused on gathering recommendations on mechanisms to expand the Cyberinfrastructure (CI) workforce via formal and informal education and training opportunities in CI, Computational and Data-enabled Science and Engineering (CDS&E), Data Science and related areas. The panel members have been selected to provide and elicit fresh, new, and controversial perspectives on strategies to prepare a larger and more diverse CI workforce that can advance research, discovery, scholarly studies, and economic competitiveness through the application of computational and data-enabled tools, resources, and methods across all sectors of society.

BOF: How to Build Diverse Teams for More Effective Research

Tuesday, November 15, 5:15 – 7:00PM

Location: 250-C

Most of us recognize that diverse teams are good for productivity and output. But do you know how to improve diversity and build a more inclusive environment? Have you ever heard of unconscious bias, stereotype threat, or imposter syndrome? Do you ever feel like you aren’t good enough to be in the community or feel like a ‘fraud’? This BoF will discuss the real effects of these three topics on the workplace, providing the audience with an introduction to each theme, how they may affect you, and how they impact employers, employees, advisors, managers, or your peers.

Panel: Experiencing HPC for Undergraduates: Graduate Student Perspective

Wednesday, November 16, 10:30AM – 12:00 PM

Location: 250-D

This session will be held as a panel discussion. Current graduate students, some of whom are candidates for the Best Student Paper Award in the Technical Papers program at SC16, will discuss their experiences in being a graduate student in an HPC discipline. They will also talk about the process of writing their award-nominated papers.

BOF: Women in HPC: Intersectionality

Wednesday, November 16, 12:15 – 1:15 PM

Location: 155-C

There are many groups that are under-represented in the HPC community, including women and African-Americans, but particularly poorly represented are those that fall into the intersection of two or more underrepresented groups. In this BOF, we hear the stories of women of different minority backgrounds in the HPC field, and the complex intersection between gender, race, sexual orientation and more, and how this has shaped their experience in HPC. We ask these women for their advice on making the HPC field more inclusive for people of all backgrounds.

Invited Talk: Bias: From Overt to Unconscious and What Research Suggests Can Be Done

Wednesday, November 16, 3:30 – 4:15 PM

Location: Ballroom-EFGHIJ

When my book Nobel Prize Women in Science was published in 1993, the legal barriers against women in academic science seemed to be fading into the past. But now we realize that subtle barriers are also difficult to deal with. In my talk, I’ll give some examples, past and present, and describe recent research on the subject. In particular, I will draw on what I’ve learned from the book that Dr. Rita Colwell, former director of the National Science Foundation, and I are writing about women in science.

BOF: Best Practices in Mentoring Undergraduate Research in Supercomputing

Wednesday, November 16, 5:15 – 7:00 PM

Location: 355-D

We present, discuss, and refine best practices on mentoring undergraduate researchers. We define “best” practices as those which 1)encourage student interest in high-performance computing, 2)produce high quality results, and 3)build student interest in the field. While some might cite the breakdown of Dennard scaling as the largest challenge facing the HPC community, scaling parallel computing education is both a more alarming and challenging issue.

We Need to Talk—About Software

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By David E. Bernholdt, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, for the IDEAS Productivity Project

In high-performance computing (HPC) we talk a lot about hardware. In computational science and engineering (CSE), we talk a lot about the scientific discoveries and results. But the software that allows us to get those results? Not so much.

The reason is simple: CSE’s professional rewards system focuses more on the results than the tools. Discussions about software engineering best practices, how to make software more sustainable, and the interplay between hardware architecture and software architecture in large, long-lived software packages are rare indeed; it can be hard to find the time, or place, for such conversations.

That’s beginning to change, however. An increasing number of voices are speaking out about the value of software and mounting attempts to resolve the field’s issues. One emerging voice is the IDEAS project, a first-of-a-kind effort supported by the United States Department of Energy to focus on issues of productivity, quality, and sustainability and one in which I’m deeply involved.

The IDEAS project is contributing to several critical software discussions, such as the meaning of interoperability for numerical libraries and the need to develop a set of standards. We’re listening to the broader software engineering community and the HPC and CSE communities to identify and document best practices for software development in a way that makes them easier for HPC/CSE practitioners to digest and adopt.

We’re also working hard to broaden the audience for these discussions through a variety of training and community-building activities such as partnering with several DOE computing facilities (ALCF, NERSC, and OLCF) to offer a webinar series on Best Practices for HPC Software Developers. We are presenting a tutorial at SC16 in Salt Lake City on Testing of HPC Scientific Software and organizing a birds-of-a-feather session on Software Engineering for CSE on Supercomputers. If that sounds interesting (and trust me it is), you might also want to check out the Fourth International Workshop on Software Engineering for High Performance Computing in Computational Science & Engineering organized by our collaborator, Jeff Carver. We’ve got big plans for upcoming meetings too, like SIAM CSE17.

Finally, we’re trying to nucleate an online community, the CSE Software Forum, with a collection of community resources to support these critical conversations. That’s still early in development, but you can register for the mailing list to hear about events and the CSE Software site.



Submissions wanted for the SIGHPC Education Resources Clearinghouse!

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As a service to the HPC community and in an effort to help with dissemination of high quality educational materials, SIGHPC Education Chapter has established a clearinghouse of links at:


We are accepting suggestions and requests to add to this list. Links will be added to HPC curriculum or professional development materials that meet the following points:

  • The learning objectives of the materials are clear.
  • The materials contain enough information to meet the objectives for the intended audience.
  • The mathematical, computational, and scientific components of the materials are correct.
  • Any directions for installation of tools or applications should be provided, including specifics related to OS or other limitations.

If you have something or know about something, let me know! I will pass it on to the Education and Training Materials Review Committee to review.  -Holly Hirst (HirstHP@appstate.edu)

Working to Create a Knowledgeable Workforce

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The SIGHPC education chapter is seeking to build a community of educators and professionals that recognize the need for a workforce with skills in modeling and simulation, data analysis, and visualization to address pressing problems in science, engineering, social sciences, and humanities. There are potentially many pathways to that expertise: through formal courses and programs at our universities, through the training efforts of government sponsored projects across a wide range of agencies and departments, through the training efforts of community organizations, and through a variety of self-pace online materials.

The chapter hopes to bring attention to all of these opportunities by sponsoring a number of activities. Our seminar series features webinars by education and training leaders from both academic and non-academic institutions. They detail their own experiences and activities in building education and training programs for those seeking expertise across a wide variety of computational science topics. Those webinars are broadcast live using Google Hangouts on Air and are recorded for later viewing on YouTube.

Our resources links provided on the SIGHPC Education web pages (http://sighpceducation.acm.org) point to a variety of educational models, exercises, and course materials and to a list of available training modules, webinar recordings, and lecture materials on a wide range of technical topics. We have established a review mechanism for adding to this list of resources and welcome suggestions for other materials to review and add to the list.

The forums associated with this site should provide another way for the community to engage in discussions about education and training activities, strategies, and examples that contribute to the mission of the chapter. Please take the time to register for the forums and participate in those discussions.

We welcome your comments and suggestions for other chapter sponsored activities that will contribute to our education and training mission.

Steven Gordon